Thu
Sep 8 2011 3:05pm

Dragon*Con 2011: The Fan Tracks

Dragon*Con 2011: The Fan TracksAs I said in part one of my Dragon*Con 2011 coverage, there is a lot to do at Dragon*Con. I never saw or heard an official number of attendees, but the number 65,000 was batted around by quite a few. With that many people, you cannot survive on large panels alone, no matter how many stars and ballrooms you have. Or at least, I’m glad Dragon*Con doesn’t try. No, there is quite a bit more to do, from the Exhibitors’ and Dealers’ halls, the Art Show and Artist Alley, the costume contests, the parade, and the gaming. Then there is what is for me the other half of Dragon*Con: the fan tracks. There are thirty-five fan tracks, not counting “Main Programming,” and while it is humanly impossible for me to cover or attend all of them, I did attend quite a few.

Okay, so a good chunk of it was on the Wheel of Time track. What can I say, these are my people! That and I was actually on several panels this year. That still kind of blows my mind, that I have gone from a nobody in the crowd to sitting behind the panel table. And I did enjoy sitting behind that table, as there was a stashed handle of rum to keep me company. Panels this year avoided too much speculation on A Memory of Light and instead focused on recapping and covering the series in preparation. This is because it could well be next Dragon*Con before the book comes out, depending on the editing and production cycle.

Anyway, examples of our panels fall into two sections, serious and not. I was on a wonderful panel talking about race and gender in the Wheel of Time, where I made the mistake of letting the conversation turn to Tylin’s rape of Mat. (And I can hear Leigh headdesking and laughing at me at the same time.) I was also on “The Perrin Panel,” dressed as a Steampunk Perrin no less, and a panel about the different romances in The Wheel of Time, and not just the main characters. In fact, I made sure we didn’t talk about Rand, and banned Mat/Tylin, having learned my lesson.

For the not serious panels, there were “Wot-LolCats,” which you can see some on Dragonmount.com’s fan art Fridays. There was also a live recording of TWoTCast, a Wheel of Time podcast known for its mature and drunken recaps of the books. And I was a special guest on the podcast as well, which I admit was quite fun. After that, we did karaoke. That is all I’m going to say about that... but it was a smashing success. There was also a costume contest that went super well. Check the intarwebs (and the Tor.Wot portal in particular) for links and info on that. I’m the guy wearing the “I Embrace Saidar” shirt (from the awesome Ta’veren Tees) in most of the pics, seeing as I was the Emcee.

For my non-WoT tracks, I split my time between readings and sci-fi tracks. Over in the readings, I listened to Jana Oliver, author of The Time Rover series and The Demon Trapper’s Daughter series, not to mention a regular attendee at JordanCon. She read some from the second book in Demon Trapper’s, and then spoke for a while on her writing method, which was amazingly informative for people who want to write either alternate history or urban fantasy in a well known setting.

I also attended A.J. Hartley’s reading, where I convinced him to read some from his book Will Power, the sequel to the hilarious Act of Will, and also from his forthcoming middle-grade novel Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact. The fun in author readings isn’t just in getting to hear the author read the books in the voice they imagined it, but also in the Q&A afterward. If you have a chance to go to a reading, you should. (Especially for David B. Coe, who is an amazing author. His reading at JordanCon 2011 actually had me on the edge of my seat.)

Aside from readings, I went to two other extremely memorable panels. The first was an academic presentation about how fiction treats artificial intelligence and human enhancement. Talk about meta, eh? The first paper was about whether Data from Star Trek would be possible (i.e. a strong AI that had no emotion) and concluded that most likely it could not, as we need emotional stimulus such as reward and punishment to motivate us to learn. The second paper basically lambasted sci-fi in general for how it portrayed AIs and cyborgs as ultimately evil on the whole. This especially interested me, as my serial novel deals with exactly this: a cyborg that everyone says is evil but is trying to prove otherwise. Needless to say, I had a nice talk with the author of that paper after the panel.

The second memorable track panel I went to was a discussion on Robert E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian. On that panel was the novelist who wrote the novel adaptation of the recent movie, and who it turns out is a huge REH fan. To that effect, he says he actually wrote the novelization to feel like “this was the book they based the movie on” instead of “this book is based on the movie.” There was also a lively discussion of who the real Conan was and how he has evolved since the REH days to our present incarnations. I will say one thing, though, the panel echoed my own thoughts: the recent movie was actually much closer to REH’s Conan than the ones from the 80s.

And, as a final feather in my cap, I managed to make it to the dark fantasy track room to listen to the legendary Michael Whelan and the quite impressive Peter David talk about Steven King’s The Dark Tower. If you don’t know, Whelan is an amazing artist, who even Brandon Sanderson fanboys over a bit, and Peter David is the comic script writer for the comic adaptations of the Dark Tower story being done by Marvel. And, I freely admit, I actually fanboyed over Whelan, too. He is actually, to date, the only person I’ve ever gone up to and just gushed “I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done.” Of course, his cover art is really what got me reading heavy-hitting fantasy in the first place, so I guess it was well placed.

So, what was going on that I missed? Well, I didn’t get to go see the working, miniature fusion reactor that was built from eBay purchases, nor the solar telescope. I didn’t see Wil Wheaton’s major panel, nor any of the costume contests outside of the Wheel of Time one. I actually missed all of the writing track, which I know from experience is always amazing. I missed Jonathan Coulton’s performance, nor did I spend as much time in the steampunk panels as I should have. As commented to a friend not long ago, I will never be able to see all there is to see at Dragon*Con. So, I guess, I am going to just have to keep going back.


Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and walking zombie after only sleeping 12 hours in 4 days to try and capture all there was to do at Dragon*Con. He was written an illustrated serialized steampunk trilogy called “The Tijervyn Chronicles” that you can read for free on his website and will be starting Volume Two: Meister of the Secret on September 9th. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

7 comments
Laszlo Domotor
1. jeno
Richard,

Thanks so much for these two posts. You've given a very unique con report compared to what I'm used to.
I did want to say (in case some of your readers want to check them out) that MARVEL publishes the most excellent Dark Tower series, not Dark Horse. The cover art for this series is also breath taking, especially the early covers by Jae Lee.

Thanks again
Richard Fife
2. R.Fife
@Jeno
D'oh! That's what I get for doing most of this from memory when I only slept 12 hours all Con. Corrected that in the article (and I should have known that, they only said MARVEL twenty times in the panel.)

And I'm glad you enjoyed my uniquish Con report, I try to be a little different with these things to give a more immersive feeling for what Con is like.
Benjamin Moldovan
3. benpmoldovan
Hm, I think, for the most part, calling an AI evil seems to be a stretch. I think it would have to have a deep down to the core understanding that what it was considering doing was wrong (not just a line of code forbidding it).
More likely, it's "inhumanity", for lack of a better term, would lead it to not understand the enormous significance in the things it does. It would just tend to follow a cold, hard logic of its own, based on lack of understanding and faulty assumptions. (For example, an AI not understanding that if a human is "turned off", they are finished forever, and can't be rebooted.)

Ben
Tricia Irish
4. Tektonica
Richard, you are the energizer bunny personified. Good report...I now have a feel of how very big and crazy Dragon Con must be. Think I"ll stick with our more personal JCon. But thanks!
April Moore
5. aprildmoore
I agree with your final sentiment, Richard - too much to see, so we'll just have to keep going back. Now I just have to pray my liver can handle it. hehe
April Moore
6. aprildmoore
Stupid gremlins! :-)
SeeingI
7. SeeingI
I think it's rather ridiculous that D*C keeps the Brit/Doctor Who track stuck in this tiny little room down in the Sheraton. Interest is so high that the panels were nearly un-attendable by the majority of fans.

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